Exploring The Waste Land
An allusion page linked from The Waste Land, Part II, line 119

Canto V
Dante Alighieri

In the draft of The Waste Land, after the words "What is the wind doing?", Eliot had written "Carrying / away the little light dead people" (see draft.) Considering those words, along with this line's mentioning of the wind, this line has been seen as an allusion to Dante's Inferno, Canto V, where the second circle of Hell holds the shades of some of the characters that Eliot alludes to (Cleopatra, Tristan, Dido.) It is likely that Eliot was alluding to two other occupants though, Paolo and Francesca.

Dante's rendition of the love story of Paolo and Francesca has affected many over the eight centuies since it was written (Eliot gives it special attention in his 1929 essay "Dante.") Paolo was the married brother of Francesca's husband. They spent much time together and in Francesca's words:

"We were reading one day, for delight, of Lancelot, how love constrained him. We were alone and without any suspicion. Many times that reading made us lift our eyes, and took the color from our faces, but only one point was that which overcame us. When we read of the longed-for smile being kissed by such a lover, this one, who never from me shall be divided, kissed my mouth all trembling. Galahaut was the book, and he who wrote it. That day we read in it no farther."

The lovers were killed and they were comdemed to Hell in the circle of the lustful for their adultry. There their souls are to be blown about each other for eternity. The point of the allusion is likely, as Francesca said to Dante, "There is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy time."

As for the wind, the Norton prose translation of Dante's description of this circle is:

... a place mute of all light, that bellows as the sea does in a tempest, if it be combated by opposing winds. The infernal hurricane that never rests carries along the spirits in its rapine; whirling and smiting it molests them. When they arrive before its rushing blast, here are shrieks, and bewailing, and lamenting; here they blaspheme the power divine. I understood that to such torment are condemned the carnal sinners who subject reason to appetite. And as their wings bear along the starlings in the cold season in a troop large and full, so that blast the evil spirits; hither, thither, down, up it carries them; no hope ever comforts them, not of repose, but even of less pain.

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T 30 - Dante
T 34 - Divine Comedy, The


L 259 - Canto V -- Images
Images depicting Paolo and Francesca in Dante's Inferno, Canto V

Exploring The Waste Land
File name: aq119.html
File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002
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